Abu Dhabi reaps rewards from Star Wars filming

With over two months to go before the first local screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, local film industry officials are already tallying the potential economic benefits for the capital after recent filming of the franchise in the UAE.

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ABU DHABI // With a little over two months to go before the first local screening of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, film industry officials in the emirate are sizing up the potential economic benefits for Abu Dhabi after cameras rolled on the seventh film of the franchise in the UAE.

Speaking during an industry panel in Cannes, France, this week, Paul Baker, twofour54’s executive director of film and TV services, told an audience filming of the latest instalment in the series generated US$60 million (Dh220m) worth of publicity for Abu Dhabi.

The film is expected to premier on December 17 in the capital.

“There is a big tourism element for Abu Dhabi in film production. So far, from Star Wars alone, Abu Dhabi has achieved a value of $60m in press mentions with three months ahead of the premiere,” he said.

Baker was speaking at Mipcom – an entertainment industry trade show – along with otherAbu Dhabi-based film and television professionals to promote the city and the emirate as creativity hub.

“Ultimately, if we can start transferring those skills and increasing the quality of Arabic content, it will travel not just in the region but outside the region as well,” he said. “There is no reason why the quality of content that is coming out of the region and the great stories told cannot travel the world.”

Panel member and producer Nathalie Habib, of Dubai’s Blink Studios, the group behind the recently launched Iftah Ya SimSim – the Arabic version of Sesame Street – said support from twofour54 has helped bring the popular children’s show to the Middle East and promote local production.

“We have just finished producing the studio segments of the return of Sesame Street to the region,” she said. “It was a fantastic experience as everyone is aware of the Sesame Street brand and what it has to offer to children across the world.”

Filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was confirmed in April 2014 when a photographer from The National captured images of filming in the Abu Dhabi desert.